JR Brings Haunting Photo Exhibition to Abandoned Ellis Island Hospital
Guided tours begin today of French artist JR’s exhibition “Unframed—Ellis Island,” on view at the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital. As reported by the New York Times, this is the first time in 60 years that the hospital will be open to the public.
The artist, who recently covered scaffolding at Paris’s Parthenon with black and white photos (see “JR Spruces Up Paris Scaffolding with 500 Faces“), has delved deep into the photographic history of the abandoned hospital, revisiting forgotten images of children and other immigrants being treated for illness, and of the doctors and nurses responsible for their care.
Each photo—the exhibition comprises nearly two dozen altogether—has been enlarged, printed, and installed somewhere in the crumbling remains of the hospital. JR has used wheatpaste to fix the photos onto unexpected surfaces such as broken windows and decaying rusted bed frames. The juxtaposition of images of the facility in its prime with its current state of decay resembles a form of time travel. The work seems capable of waking the island’s ghosts.
“The idea is to respect the architecture,” JR told the Times of the site-specific installation. “I let the walls decide what part of the image should appear.”
The hospital opened in 1902 and treated about 1.2 million people—or 10 percent of Ellis Island’s immigrants—before being phased out in the 1930s. After stints during which it was used by the Coast Guard and as a military detention center, the complex was finally shuttered in 1954.
Just as the building has been subject to the ravages of time and nature, JR has taken no measures to protect his work from the elements. As Janis Calella, president of exhibition sponsor Save Ellis Island, said to the Times, the show will remain on view “until it decides to disappear.”
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